In a few days, I will be heading off to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, Tanzania via Amsterdam (and Kiliminjaro, which just sounds poetic). This trip is in loose conjunction with the eLearning Africa 2011 Conference. A good mix of pie in the sky energy and practical, measurable and highly contextual activities to maximize the technology at the disposal of most East Africans. A good mix and we, despite the cliche, learn a lot more than I fear we actually contribute.
We also like to coincide these trips with workshops at participating institutions in the area. Our online resources are offered free of charge for all non-profit organizations in Africa as part of the African Access Initiative. Over 600 institutions in the developing world have access to our materials free of charge and so we use these opportunities for travel to promote using the resource. Most of this involves promoting information literacy, the ability to evaluate and employ online resources towards academic effect (see ACRL standards/definitions). While mobile access is improving dramatically in East Africa and bandwidth is as well to some degree, much of higher education in the region does not enjoy tremendous amounts of connectivity to allow for the luxury of serendipitous searching. Exploring the linkage from one resource to the next, allowing for discovery of A to lead to discovery of B. Following non-linear rhizomic paths. Especially for resources as dense and contextually specific as academic ones.
So, these workshops (when they are successful) are exercises in creativity and restraint. Creativity in terms of brainstorming applicable terms, structuring them, and sequencing them. Further creativity in reviewing highly multimodal and primary sources for their applicability towards advancing the thesis. Restraint in terms of carving the superfluous terms away and iterating on sight. A translation layer mixed in to redefine natural language to academic language to search engine language. A relatively complex grapple with some disparate elements there. This is the presentation I will be doing assuming the internet doesn’t hold (in the trips I have made throughout Africa to do these kinds of events, the internet has only held me for twice-once at the wonderful University of South Africa (UNISA) and the other at Bibliotheca Alexandrina, both incredible institutions by any standard). The advantage (at least as I see it) in this approach is that all of these activities can take place away from the computer (I have always held that they should, regardless of where the student happens to interface with the machine). Conceptually I approach my topic, conceptually I structure it, conceptually I pare it down. I want to save actual connectivity for iteration and actually acquiring the materials.